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Being More than a Name in a Virtual World

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“Late meetings, early meetings, inboxes that fill up while we sleep; it’s all part of working for a multinational company with a reach that extends around the globe. As Intel employees, we use technology and flexible schedules to navigate the distance between us.” This was part of a blog post that the leader of my organization wrote not too long ago. This resonated with me so much that I grabbed a sticky and a pen and I put this quote on my monitor. I’m part of a team where I regularly have early morning and late night meetings in order to partner with my teammates around the world. A lot of our work is done over the phone, through sharing desktops virtually and over email. At first it felt awkward and clunky to work so closely with someone without meeting them in person; how was I expected to build a rapport with a voice or a name on the “To:” field? How do you become more than just a name? But over time, we did. So when we did meet face-to-face, it felt like we had known each other for years! Here are a few things that helped me that I wanted to share with you.

Put a face to the name Several people at work have a small snapshot of themselves in their signature line while others have simply just asked if I could send them a photograph so they could “see” who they are talking to. Recently we’ve been adding our pictures to our Outlook* and to our internal instant messenger system. This helps with a few different things. First, it puts a face to a name. Now the person on the other end of the e-mail who is asking for your help isn’t just an unknown face, but they’ve become a person. Second, it’ll help you figure out what pronoun to use. This may seem trivial, but it’s true! My name, Sejal, is actually a unisex name. (While I’ve never met a male Sejal, I’ve heard they exist!) When someone writes to me and refers to me as Mr. or he, it actually distracts me from the rest of the message. A picture would clear that up. Lastly, it’s an attention-grabber. When you’re looking at a screen all day, a picture is a break from the mundane.

Ask about more than just work Small talk: who would have thought that two simple words could be so terrifying? Small talk isn’t everyone’s favorite, but it does have a purpose. It’s the gateway to building a relationship with someone, especially when it’s someone you won’t necessarily see in person. The trick to small talk is to ask questions and listen to the responses. If you’re going to ask just for the sake of asking, save your breath because you’re not helping anyone out. Through small talk you can learn a lot about your coworkers which can then open the door to further conversations, a deeper relationship and a trusted partnership. Small talk can be as simple as, “How was your weekend?” to “What’s the weather like?” And if you’re still afraid of small talk, just listen to someone else start a conversation and you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll pick up my just observing.

At Intel we have an internal community called PlanetBlue where employees can blog (about work or personal interest topics), join groups, participate in forums, etc. You can also connect with your colleagues on PlanetBlue so they’ll show up in your feed. This is pretty cool because you can keep up with blogs they may write or comment on, which could show you a whole different side of them!

Follow up on what you’ve learned Did you find out about a colleague’s hidden talent of doodling online? Or perhaps you picked up on another coworker’s obsession with cupcakes or fascination with a specific sports team? Whatever you learned through listening, put it into use. If you see an article that made you think of them, send them a quick email sharing it. Is your cube neighbor an avid hiker? Ask them for some tips for a newbie and you’ll be rewarded with a new bond and some great advice too!

These are a few tips that worked for me; I’d love to hear what’s worked for you! Whenever I do finally meet a colleague in person, I often hug them because over the hours we’ve spent talking on the phone or corresponding over email, we’ve built a relationship and they are more than just a name.